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Acorns from small to large of the Willow Oak, Quercus phellos (very small, at center); the Southern Red Oak, Quercus falcata; the White Oak, Quercus alba; the Scarlet Oak, Quercus rosalia; from southern Greenville County, SC, USA. Scale bar at upper right is 1 cm. Acorns small to large.jpg
Acorns from small to large of the Willow Oak, Quercus phellos (very small, at center); the Southern Red Oak, Quercus falcata; the White Oak, Quercus alba; the Scarlet Oak, Quercus rosalia; from southern Greenville County, SC, USA. Scale bar at upper right is 1 cm.
Diagram of the anatomy of an acorn: A.) Cupule B.) Pericarp (fruit wall) C.) Seed coat (testa) D.) Cotyledons (2) E.) Plumule F.) Radicle G.) Remains of style. Together D., E., and F. make up the embryo. Acorn diagram.jpg
Diagram of the anatomy of an acorn: A.) Cupule B.) Pericarp (fruit wall) C.) Seed coat (testa) D.) Cotyledons (2) E.) Plumule F.) Radicle G.) Remains of style. Together D., E., and F. make up the embryo.
Acorn, raw
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,619 kJ (387 kcal)
40.75 g
23.85 g
Saturated 3.102 g
Monounsaturated 15.109 g
Polyunsaturated 4.596 g
6.15 g
Tryptophan 0.074 g
Threonine 0.236 g
Isoleucine 0.285 g
Leucine 0.489 g
Lysine 0.384 g
Methionine 0.103 g
Cystine 0.109 g
Phenylalanine 0.269 g
Tyrosine 0.187 g
Valine 0.345 g
Arginine 0.473 g
Histidine 0.170 g
Alanine 0.350 g
Aspartic acid 0.635 g
Glutamic acid 0.986 g
Glycine 0.285 g
Proline 0.246 g
Serine 0.261 g
Vitamins Quantity%DV
Vitamin A equiv.
2 μg
Thiamine (B1)
0.112 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.118 mg
Niacin (B3)
1.827 mg
Pantothenic acid (B5)
0.715 mg
Vitamin B6
0.528 mg
Folate (B9)
87 μg
Vitamin C
0.0 mg
Minerals Quantity%DV
41 mg
.621 mg
0.79 mg
62 mg
1.337 mg
79 mg
539 mg
0 mg
0.51 mg
Other constituentsQuantity
Water27.9 g

Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA FoodData Central

The acorn, or oaknut, is the nut of the oaks and their close relatives (genera Quercus and Lithocarpus , in the family Fagaceae). It usually contains one seed (occasionally two seeds), enclosed in a tough, leathery shell, and borne in a cup-shaped cupule. Acorns are 1–6 cm (122+12 in) long and 0.8–4 cm (381+58 in) on the fat side. Acorns take between 6 and 24 months (depending on the species) to mature; see the list of Quercus species for details of oak classification, in which acorn morphology and phenology are important factors.



The word acorn (earlier akerne, and acharn) is related to the Gothic name akran, which had the sense of "fruit of the unenclosed land". [1] The word was applied to the most important forest produce, that of the oak. Chaucer spoke of "achornes of okes" in the 14th century. By degrees, popular etymology connected the word both with "corn" and "oak-horn", and the spelling changed accordingly. [2] The current spelling (emerged 15c.-16c.), derives from association with ac (Old English: "oak") + corn. [3]

Ecological role

Acorns play an important role in forest ecology when oaks are the dominant species or are plentiful. [4] The volume of the acorn crop may vary widely, creating great abundance or great stress on the many animals dependent on acorns and the predators of those animals. [5] Acorns, along with other nuts, are termed mast.

Wildlife that consume acorns as an important part of their diets include birds, such as jays, pigeons, some ducks, and several species of woodpeckers. Small mammals that feed on acorns include mice, squirrels and several other rodents. Acorns have a large influence on small rodents in their habitats, as large acorn yields help rodent populations to grow. [6]

Ponies eating acorns. Acorns can cause painful death in equines, especially if eaten to excess amounts. Ponies eating acorns on Parkhill Lawn, New Forest - - 251840.jpg
Ponies eating acorns. Acorns can cause painful death in equines, especially if eaten to excess amounts.

Large mammals such as pigs, bears, and deer also consume large amounts of acorns; they may constitute up to 25% of the diet of deer in the autumn. [10] In Spain, Portugal and the New Forest region of southern England, pigs are still turned loose in dehesas (large oak groves) in the autumn, to fill and fatten themselves on acorns. Heavy consumption of acorns can, on the other hand, be toxic to other animals that cannot detoxify their tannins, such as horses and cattle. [11] [12]

The larvae of some moths and weevils also live in young acorns, consuming the kernels as they develop. [13]

Acorns are attractive to animals because they are large and thus efficiently consumed or cached. Acorns are also rich in nutrients. Percentages vary from species to species, but all acorns contain large amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats, as well as the minerals calcium, phosphorus and potassium, and the vitamin niacin. Total food energy in an acorn also varies by species, but all compare well with other wild foods and with other nuts. [14]

Acorns also contain bitter tannins, the amount varying with the species. Since tannins, which are plant polyphenols, interfere with an animal's ability to metabolize protein, creatures must adapt in different ways to use the nutritional value acorns contain. Animals may preferentially select acorns that contain fewer tannins. When the tannins are metabolized in cattle, the tannic acid produced can cause ulceration and kidney failure. [12]

Animals that cache acorns, such as jays and squirrels, may wait to consume some of these acorns until sufficient groundwater has percolated through them to leach out the tannins. Other animals buffer their acorn diet with other foods. Many insects, birds, and mammals metabolize tannins with fewer ill effects than do humans.

Species of acorn that contain large amounts of tannins are very bitter, astringent, and potentially irritating if eaten raw. This is particularly true of the acorns of American red oaks and English oaks. The acorns of white oaks, being much lower in tannins, are nutty in flavor; this characteristic is enhanced if the acorns are given a light roast before grinding.

Tannins can be removed by soaking chopped acorns in several changes of water, until the water no longer turns brown. Cold water leaching can take several days, but three to four changes of boiling water can leach the tannins in under an hour. [15] Hot water leaching (boiling) cooks the starch of the acorn, which would otherwise act like gluten in flour, helping it bind to itself. For this reason, if the acorns will be used to make flour, then cold water leaching is preferred. [16]

Being rich in fat, acorn flour can spoil or molder easily and must be carefully stored. Acorns are also sometimes prepared as a massage oil.

Acorns of the white oak group, Leucobalanus, typically start rooting as soon as they are in contact with the soil (in the fall), then send up the leaf shoot in the spring.

Dispersal agents

Sprouting acorn of Quercus robur. Quercus robur - sprouting acorn.jpg
Sprouting acorn of Quercus robur .

Acorns are too heavy for wind dispersal, so they require other ways to spread. Oaks therefore depend on biological seed dispersal agents to move the acorns beyond the mother tree and into a suitable area for germination (including access to adequate water, sunlight and soil nutrients), ideally a minimum of 20–30 m (70–100 ft) from the parent tree[ citation needed ].

Many animals eat unripe acorns on the tree or ripe acorns from the ground, with no reproductive benefit to the oak, but some animals, such as squirrels and jays serve as seed dispersal agents. Jays and squirrels that scatter-hoard acorns in caches for future use effectively plant acorns in a variety of locations in which it is possible for them to germinate and thrive.

Even though jays and squirrels retain remarkably large mental maps of cache locations and return to consume them, the odd acorn may be lost, or a jay or squirrel may die before consuming all of its stores. A small number of acorns manage to germinate and survive, producing the next generation of oaks.

Scatter-hoarding behavior depends on jays and squirrels associating with plants that provide good packets of food that are nutritionally valuable, but not too big for the dispersal agent to handle. The beak sizes of jays determine how large acorns may get before jays ignore them.

Acorns germinate on different schedules, depending on their place in the oak family. Once acorns sprout, they are less nutritious, as the seed tissue converts to the indigestible lignins that form the root. [17]


In some cultures, acorns once constituted a dietary staple, though they have largely been replaced by grains and are now typically considered a relatively unimportant food, except in some Native American and Korean communities.

Several cultures have devised traditional acorn-leaching methods, sometimes involving specialized tools, that were traditionally passed on to their children by word of mouth. [18] [19]

Culinary Use

Acorns served an important role in early human history and were a source of food for many cultures around the world. [20] For instance, the Ancient Greek lower classes and the Japanese (during the Jōmon period) [21] would eat acorns, especially in times of famine.[ citation needed ] In ancient Iberia they were a staple food, according to Strabo. Despite this history, acorns rarely form a large part of modern diets and are not currently cultivated on scales approaching that of many other nuts. However, if properly prepared (by selecting high-quality specimens and leaching out the bitter tannins in water), acorn meal can be used in some recipes calling for grain flours. In antiquity, Pliny the Elder noted that acorn flour could be used to make bread. [22] Varieties of oak differ in the amount of tannin in their acorns. Varieties preferred by American Indians such as Quercus kelloggii (California black oak) may be easier to prepare or more palatable. [23]

In Korea, an edible jelly named dotorimuk is made from acorns, and dotori guksu are Korean noodles made from acorn flour or starch. In the 17th century, a juice extracted from acorns was administered to habitual drunkards to cure them of their condition or else to give them the strength to resist another bout of drinking.[ citation needed ][ clarification needed ]

Acorns have frequently been used as a coffee substitute, particularly when coffee was unavailable or rationed. The Confederates in the American Civil War and Germans during World War II (when it was called Ersatz coffee), which were cut off from coffee supplies by Union and Allied blockades respectively, are particularly notable past instances of this use of acorns.

Use by Native Americans

Mortar holes for pounding acorns into flour, Lost Lake, California Acorn mortar holes friant ca.jpg
Mortar holes for pounding acorns into flour, Lost Lake, California
Chuckachancy women pause in their work preparing acorns for grinding, California, ca. 1920 Photograph with text showing a Chuckachancy woman preparing acorns for grinding, California. This is from a survey... - NARA - 296297 (cropped).jpg
Chuckachancy women pause in their work preparing acorns for grinding, California, ca. 1920

Acorns are a traditional food of many indigenous peoples of North America, and long served an especially important role for Californian Native Americans, where the ranges of several species of oaks overlap, increasing the reliability of the resource. [24] One ecology researcher of Yurok and Karuk heritage reports that "his traditional acorn preparation is a simple soup, cooked with hot stones directly in a basket," and says he enjoys acorns eaten with "grilled salmon, huckleberries or seaweed." [25] Unlike many other plant foods, acorns do not need to be eaten or processed right away, but may be stored for a long time, much as squirrels do. In years that oaks produced many acorns, Native Americans sometimes collected enough acorns to store for two years as insurance against poor acorn production years.

After drying them in the sun to discourage mold and germination, acorns could be cached in hollow trees or structures on poles to keep them safe from mice and squirrels. Stored acorns could then be used when needed, particularly during the winter when other resources were scarce. Acorns that germinated in the fall were shelled and pulverized before those germinating in spring. [ citation needed ] Because of their high fat content, stored acorns can become rancid. Molds may also grow on them.

The lighting of ground fires killed the larvae of acorn moths and acorn weevils by burning them during their dormancy period in the soil. The pests can infest and consume more than 95% of an oak's acorns. [ citation needed ]

Fires also released the nutrients bound in dead leaves and other plant debris into the soil, thus fertilizing oak trees while clearing the ground to make acorn collection easier. Most North American oaks tolerate light fires, especially when consistent burning has eliminated woody fuel accumulation around their trunks. Consistent burning encouraged oak growth at the expense of other trees less tolerant of fire, thus keeping oaks dominant in the landscapes. [ citation needed ]

Oaks produce more acorns when they are not too close to other oaks and thus competing with them for sunlight, water and soil nutrients. The fires tended to eliminate the more vulnerable young oaks and leave old oaks which created open oak savannas with trees ideally spaced to maximize acorn production.

In culture


A motif in Roman architecture, also popular in Celtic and Scandinavian art, the acorn symbol is used as an ornament on cutlery, furniture, and jewelry; it also appears on finials at Westminster Abbey.

Contemporary use as symbol

The acorn is the symbol for the National Trails of England and Wales, and is used for the waymarks on these paths. [26] The acorn, specifically that of the white oak, is also present in the symbol for the University of Connecticut. [27]

Acorns are also used as charges in heraldry.

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Quercus kelloggii</i> Species of oak tree

Quercus kelloggii, the California black oak, also known as Kellogg oak, is an oak in the red oak section, native to western North America. Although genetically separated from them for more than 20 million years its leaves are remarkably similar in appearance to several other members of the red oak section including the red oak and the black oak found in eastern and central North America.

<i>Quercus rubra</i> Species of flowering plant in the beech and oak family Fagaceae

Quercus rubra, the northern red oak, is an oak tree in the red oak group. It is a native of North America, in the eastern and central United States and southeast and south-central Canada. It grows from the north end of the Great Lakes, east to Nova Scotia, south as far as Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, and west to Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Minnesota. It has been introduced to small areas in Western Europe, where it can frequently be seen cultivated in gardens and parks. It prefers good soil that is slightly acidic. Often simply called red oak, northern red oak is so named to distinguish it from southern red oak, also known as the Spanish oak. It is sometimes called champion oak. It is also the state tree of New Jersey and the provincial tree of Prince Edward Island.

<i>Quercus alba</i> Species of oak tree

Quercus alba, the white oak, is one of the preeminent hardwoods of eastern and central North America. It is a long-lived oak, native to eastern and central North America and found from Minnesota, Ontario, Quebec, and southern Maine south as far as northern Florida and eastern Texas. Specimens have been documented to be over 450 years old.

<i>Phytophthora ramorum</i> Species of single-celled organism

Phytophthora ramorum is the oomycete plant pathogen known to cause the disease sudden oak death (SOD). The disease kills oak and other species of trees and has had devastating effects on the oak populations in California and Oregon, as well as being present in Europe. Symptoms include bleeding cankers on the tree's trunk and dieback of the foliage, in many cases leading to the death of the tree.

<i>Corylus cornuta</i> Species of tree

Corylus cornuta, the beaked hazelnut, is a deciduous shrubby hazel with two subspecies found throughout most of North America. The Eastern beaked hazel is found from southern Canada south to Georgia, while the Western beaked hazel occurs along the west coast from Alaska to California.

Hoarding (animal behavior)

Hoarding or caching in animal behavior is the storage of food in locations hidden from the sight of both conspecifics and members of other species. Most commonly, the function of hoarding or caching is to store food in times of surplus for times when food is less plentiful. However, there is evidence that some amount of caching or hoarding is done in order to ripen the food, called ripening caching. The term hoarding is most typically used for rodents, whereas caching is more commonly used in reference to birds, but the behaviors in both animal groups are quite similar.

Fox squirrel Species of mammal

The fox squirrel, also known as the eastern fox squirrel or Bryant's fox squirrel, is the largest species of tree squirrel native to North America. Despite the differences in size and coloration, it is sometimes mistaken for American red squirrels or eastern gray squirrels in areas where the species co-exist.

<i>Quercus gambelii</i> Species of oak tree

Quercus gambelii, with the common name Gambel oak, is a deciduous small tree or large shrub that is widespread in the foothills and lower mountain elevations of western North America. It is also regionally called scrub oak, oak brush, and white oak.

<i>Aesculus californica</i> Species of plant

Aesculus californica, commonly known as the California buckeye or California horse-chestnut, is a species of buckeye native to California and southwestern Oregon.

<i>Quercus lobata</i> Species of oak tree

Quercus lobata, commonly called the valley oak or roble, grows into the largest of North American oaks. It is endemic to California, growing in interior valleys and foothills from Siskiyou County to San Diego County. Mature specimens may attain an age of up to 600 years. This deciduous oak requires year-round access to groundwater.


Dotori-muk (도토리묵) or acorn jelly is a Korean food which is a jelly made from acorn starch. Although "muk" means "jelly", when used without qualifiers, it usually refers to dotorimuk. The practice of making dotorimuk originated in mountainous areas of ancient Korea, when abundant oak trees produced enough acorns each autumn to become a viable source of food. Dotori-muk does not spoil easily, so it was used as a lunch box when traveling a long way.

<i>Quercus chrysolepis</i> Species of oak tree

Quercus chrysolepis, commonly termed canyon live oak, canyon oak, golden cup oak or maul oak, is a North American species of evergreen oak that is found in Mexico and in the western United States, notably in the California Coast Ranges. This tree is often found near creeks and drainage swales growing in moist cool microhabitats. Its leaves are a glossy dark green on the upper surface with prominent spines; a further identification arises from the leaves of canyon live oak being geometrically flat. They are often sympatric with Quercus agrifolia and several other oak species. Fossil data supports a much wider distribution throughout the western United States during the early Holocene period.

Large Japanese field mouse Species of rodent

The large Japanese field mouse is a nocturnal species of rodent in the family Muridae. It is endemic to Japan.

Mexican fox squirrel Species of rodent

The Mexican fox squirrel(Sciurus nayaritensis) is a species of tree squirrel found throughout the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico as far south as Jalisco — and northward into the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona, U.S.

<i>Quercus dumosa</i> Species of oak tree

Quercus dumosa is a species of plant in the family Fagaceae, belonging to the white oak section of the oak genus (Quercus). This tree goes by the common names coastal sage scrub oak and Nuttall's scrub oak.

Acorn noodle soup

Acorn noodle soup, called dotoriguksu in Korean, is a noodle soup consisting of Korean noodles made from acorn flour or starch, salt, and a combination of grain-based flour.

<i>Quercus ilicifolia</i> Species of oak tree

Quercus ilicifolia, commonly known as bear oak or scrub oak, is a small shrubby oak native to the eastern United States and southeastern Canada. Its range extends in the United States from Maine to North Carolina, with reports of a few populations north of the international frontier in Ontario. The name ilicifolia means "holly-leaved."

<i>Quercus rotundifolia</i> Species of flowering plant in the family Fagaceae

Quercus rotundifolia, the holm oak or ballota oak, is an evergreen oak native to the western Mediterranean region, with the majority on the Iberian Peninsula. The species was first described by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in 1785. It is the typical species of the Iberian dehesa or montado, where its sweet-astringent acorns are a source of food for livestock, particularly the Iberian pig. It has previously been described in the same species as Quercus ilex. Its acorns have been used for human nourishment since the Neolithic era.

<i>Notholithocarpus</i> Species of flowering plant in the family Fagaceae

Notholithocarpus densiflorus, commonly known as the tanoak or tanbark-oak, is a broadleaf tree in the family Fagaceae, native to the western United States, in California as far south as the Transverse Ranges, north to southwest Oregon, and east in the Sierra Nevada. It can reach 40 m (130 ft) tall in the California Coast Ranges, and can have a trunk diameter of 60–190 cm (24–75 in).

Pallass squirrel Species of "beautiful" squirrel from Asia

Pallas's squirrel, also known as the red-bellied tree squirrel, is a species of squirrel native to Greater China, India, and Southeast Asia.


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